Boy, these past few weeks have been a whirlwind. Official edits to Woodwalker manuscript, redrawing the world map for the interior pages, a fourth draft of the cover art, and then feedback on my second manuscript... I'm pretty ragged. I thought I'd take a few days and work on some art to just calm my nerves a little, but I'm kind of sucking that up, too. I just don't have the stamina to finish anything. So here's a good old-fashioned sketchdump of concept work and doodlery.
Top left are a few inane doodles of Mae and Mona in a Pixar style, which I usually shy away from because all Disney-Pixar's female leads look the same, with the doe eyes and button noses. This gave me a complex as a kid because I knew with my big hawk nose I could never be cast as a Disney princess. But several of my favorite artists draw in this style and I can never resist trying to mimic my idols. (For the record, I'm over my childhood complex now--- turns out hooked noses were a sign of aristocracy in ancient Rome, and as my heritage is largely Italian...)
To the right of that is a junky sketch of Valien on his coronation day looking all smirky (and a bit like a mashup of Loki and Kylo Ren, which in all honesty, is pretty accurate). To his left is an unfinished concept of Mae with her archery gear. I've since changed the weaponry of the Royal Guard from recurved bows to flatbows, so this isn't quite right anymore, but she'd still have the hip quiver and spare arrows in her bow hand. I prefer hip quivers over back quivers because I've always found them easier and quicker to access, and they leave room for a backpack, which the Royal Guard would certainly need on days-long scouts in the forest. I also know highly accomplished archers would sometimes keep their spare arrows in their draw hands, but Mae isn't necessarily supposed to be the pinnacle of archery. She's good because she has to be, but she's not a prodigy, so I imagine she would be perfectly satisfied with keeping her spares in her bow hand.
Below that are two concepts for Lumen Lake, both of which led me to swear at my screen as I created them. In fact, one of them is actually saved under the name "arrgHATE.jpg." I'm just not that good at large-scale environments despite my love for them, and these didn't turn out how I wanted them to. But they gave me good practice, and they helped me with my worldbuilding. Tiny Colm is in the foreground of both.
Hopefully I'll be able to pull myself out of this funk before I have to write any more self-deprecating posts. Woodwalker is with the copy editor now, and my editor has a synopsis of manuscript 2. So things are still trucking along!
Mona's always looking out for Mae. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone! Here's to a big 2016!
Man, December hit like a freight train this year. Here are the things that happened in the span of three days:
Needless to say, I have no shortage of things to keep me awake at night. But one thing has overridden everything else, buoying me through the season. Okay, two things. One is whisky shots. But the other is my brand-spanking-new workspace.
Our old house was 900 square-feet, two-bed, one-bath—a good size for a newly-married couple. But five years later, as a family of four, we were bursting at the seams. My desk, such as it was, was wedged beside the chest freezer in the utility room, but I couldn’t always work there. With no other alternative, it often served as a landing pad for laundry and cooking. But besides that, it was loud. There was no quiet place in the house—nowhere I could sit where I couldn’t hear everything else that was going on, whether it was Daniel Tiger teaching my kids about the potty or Kai Ryssdal serenading my husband with the marketplace reports. I often wound up writing in bed with my earbuds blasting Pandora’s Ambient radio station.
Now, I don’t mean to whine. Our house was small, but it was safe, and it was ours. We had a great little yard for our vegetables and flowers. My girls learned quickly how to share space and belongings. Power bills were absurdly low. I could vacuum four out of the five rooms from the same electrical outlet. But I can’t deny that trying to create a productive workspace was a nearly impossible task.
My most vivid memory of this crusade came during the first draft of Woodwalker. It was in the evening, and the girls were in bed. At that early stage, my youngest daughter was sleeping in a bassinet in our bedroom. My oldest was asleep in the adjoining room. My husband was working on some project in the utility room, listening as usual to NPR podcasts. That meant I was on the couch in the living room. But it was also vacuuming day. We have a second-hand Roomba we inherited, and it was busy trundling across the living room floor. As such, the coffee table and toddler chair were stacked on the couch beside me to give the Roomba a clear path. I was hunched over my laptop on half a cushion, doing my best to move my characters through a thrilling plot of danger and intrigue while the Roomba crabbed along the couch and Kai updated us on the S&P 500.
I’m pretty sure I ended up re-writing that particular scene.
You can imagine how thrilled I am, then, that in our new house, we’ve dedicated an entire room to being a home office. It comfortably holds both my desk and my husband’s (he's promised to listen to his podcasts on headphones). It gets lovely sunlight through two windows. It easily fits a large bookshelf, big enough to hold not just my books, but twelve years’ worth of sketchbooks as well. But best of all?
It has a door.
A door that closes.
I don’t even know what Daniel Tiger sang about today. I didn’t hear Kai Ryssdal do the numbers. I couldn’t hear a single word. I heard the click of my keyboard as I worked on edits, the tap of my stylus as I redrew my cover, and the little ding Photoshop makes when I try to use too many hotkeys at once.
It was bliss. I'm enjoying my editor's revisions immensely, and I'm really excited about the direction the book cover is heading. I'm looking forward to many long hours in this little room, where the only sounds are the cacophony of character dialogue in my head (and that Photoshop error ding--but at least I can mute that).
If you’re waiting until you’ve built the perfect workspace to start your novel, don’t. If you’re waiting until you have more time, don’t. You’ll never have a better place or time than right now. Carve out your space. Make the time. Let it happen.
It's official! Despite not having a cover (or a final round of edits, for that matter), Woodwalker is up for pre-order with HarperCollins! Pre-orders help publishers gauge interest and generate buzz in a book, so I would be thrilled if you chose to pre-order a digital copy (right now only $2.99!).
Official release date for the e-book is May 17, 2016! It's early yet, and this date might fluctuate (but I hope it doesn't--- that's my mom's birthday. Happy birthday, Mom, I'm not a total failure!). Hopefully soon we'll see a release date for the paperback version and a cover reveal!
Pre-order a digital copy at HarperCollins.com
This new piece I just finished gives me a good opportunity to talk a little bit about some of the cultural fashion in the book and where I drew my inspiration. Hang in there, because none of it makes sense.
While I love drawing Mae being the skilled badass she is, fancy dresses and finery are certainly more fun to draw, and it’s not entirely out of character. A big part of the Wood-folk’s culture revolves around dancing; all their holidays incorporate it somehow, and it would be an integral part of the smaller communities throughout the mountain range. Any social gathering would likely give way to dancing at some point, whether it’s out in the town square or in the cramped space of someone’s parlor. While Mae is probably more at home with a tunic and scout pack, she would have cherished this part of her native culture and would long for it during her exile.
Nailing down exactly what real-world culture the Wood-folk mirror is impossible, because I took a bunch of seriously cool influences and mashed them together. The most significant aspect, wardrobe-wise, are Mae’s soft-soled leather boots. These would be worn by everyone all the time, with different fringes and decorations for different occasions. Here she’s wearing boots embellished with bells, which would be a popular choice for dances. Her titular rank as a Woodwalker would in part be conveyed by a pair of boots with two bands of fringe. And at a solemn occasion like a funeral, folk would wear boots with no embellishments at all.
These were inspired by several different Native American cultures, but that wasn’t the only influence. With dancing being a large part of the culture, much of the Wood-folk’s wardrobe would be designed around what looked cool while spinning or moving. Enter the influence of belly dance. I took a belly dance class in grad school (yes, grad school, bring it on), and I came away loving not just the spirit and fluidity of the style but the gorgeous ensembles that went with it (I never wore any myself; mostly I was in yoga pants and blown-out socks). I really wanted to capture that incorporation of the ensemble as part of the dance. So a dance in the Silverwood would likely be filled with flowing fabric, miles of pleats, and embellishments designed to move with the dancer.
Neither the Native American influence nor belly dance influence makes any sense with the actual music, of course. The instruments and melodies driving the festivities would be derived from traditional Celtic music. Fiddles, whistles, and dulcimers would be accompanied by bodhráns, or flat drums struck with tippers. Ultimately, the style of dancing would most closely resemble contra, a folk dance similar to square dancing, only done in a line and by hipsters (it’s okay, I’m one of them). They’d also have partner dances that would incorporate contra moves, such as Mae’s partner allemande above.
So basically we’re looking at an Appalachian folk dance set to driving Celtic music, danced in elaborate gowns and super comfy footwear. This concludes my thesis on the absolute greatest mashup of dancing traditions possible (I told you this happened in grad school).
Tune in for the next installment of Continental Fashion Culture: Lumeni Diving Costumes. This one will include shirtless men.
On Saturday, June 28, 2014, after the girls had gone to bed, I opened up a blank Word document and started typing. This itself wasn’t unusual—I’ve always written stories, almost as long as I’ve been drawing, and throwing vague ideas onto paper was nothing new. But this time was different. This was the novel I was determined to see through to the end. Not write just for my own enjoyment, but with the ultimate goal of seeing it in print. Dragged along by a determined protagonist through a constantly-evolving world, I had high hopes for this little brainchild.
One year, four months, and fourteen days later, I can finally announce that Woodwalker has been picked up by HarperCollins and will be published in the spring of 2016!
There are an outrageous number of people to thank for helping make this a reality, the foremost being my amazing agent, Valerie Noble of Donaghy Literary Group, who believed in me and Woodwalker from the get-go. I’m grateful to my new editor, David Pomerico of Harper Voyager Impulse for taking me on for publication. Will, of course, who was the first person to lay eyes on my ugly little larvae of a first draft and assured me it wasn’t the worst piece of writing ever penned. My beta readers—my mom, who prodded and nudged each scene to achieve its full potential; my dad, who corrected all my biology and natural science errors; Anne Marie, who helped me create a believable and dynamic world; and of course Caitlin, who will always and forever be my soul sister, partner in crime, and fellow writer. Oh, and Corey, even though he never actually finished the book.
For updates, artwork, and inside information, you can keep an eye on this blog or follow me on my other social media accounts, namely Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for your support, your interest, and following along on this wild journey.
I've had the good fortune to have a decent amount of time to do some in-depth painting these past few weeks, which resulted in a series of pieces starring Mae and each of the Alastaire siblings. First is Mae in a typical interaction with Mona. Mae's got her old silver compass, and Mona is wearing her royal pearl pendant.
Next is Mae glancing sidelong at Colm (why do they always look like they just got caught making surreptitious love? What is this subtext??). This intimate little scene comes near the middle of the book, where they're each sharing a few of their secrets with the other. Mae's roughed up from an altercation with a rockslide.
And finally, we come to Arlen. Anyone who's ever been backpacking knows there's always that one person who remembers they have a pocket full of beef jerky just after the bear bag is hung.
Arlen is that person.
From an artistic standpoint, each of these pieces has furthered my own little quest of achieving more depth in my work and not getting too finicky with details. Like most artists, I have a tendency to overwork my pieces. To counter this, I've been working zoomed out to 33% and only going in really close for intricate details like faces. It's helped some, though I still need to work on preserving the freshness of the original sketch.
I have almost three sketchbooks full of concept sketches and illustrations for Woodwalker, but I can only post a fraction of them without giving away the plot. So here are a few benign ones. First up is our protagonist, Mae. Top left is her in Woodwalker uniform giving (shouting) her opinions to the king of the Silverwood, followed by a few scenes from her subsequent exile. Bottom left is Mae as a young scout, probably just after joining the Royal Guard, listening intently to her Woodwalker.
Next up are some Alastaire babies. First is Arlen stuffing his face with gingerbread ("eating his feelings" my friend Caitlin would say). Then an awkward family portrait, and a typical interaction between Mona and her mother ("keep that chin up."). And finally Mona being crowned queen of Lumen Lake at age eleven, watched by Colm and a distracted Arlen.
And finally, a few scene illustrations, starting with a shot of the group on their journey through the Silverwood. To the right is one of the earliest scenes in the book, though in retrospect, it sort of looks like Mona just caught Mae sleeping with Colm (brb, going to make some manuscript edits). Bottom left is Arlen with his prized (read: only) possession, his atlatl, the Bird of Prey. Bottom right is Mae revealing (plot twist!) she's not a cat person.
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator